people mentoring in office

The Differences Between Formal and Informal Mentoring

For the most success, formal mentoring is the most common choice for mentoring in the workplace. It involves mentors and mentees meeting up for frequent mentoring sessions over a specified period of time. A formal program is well-structured and organized and aligns with an organization’s goals and objectives.

Often, mentees have goals they should achieve within a mentorship. To achieve these goals, mentor and mentee matches are often optimized with a strategic focus that provides an outcome that follows the organization’s business objectives for the program.

With informal mentoring, there may or may not be goals present, the goals may or may not coincide with the organization’s goals and there really is no specific timeline for the mentorships.

A modern focus of a type of informal mentoring is the concept of “flash mentoring” in which the mentoring relationships may only encompass one or two sessions. In these instances, the mentee is looking for specific information or help, and reaches out to a short-term mentor. One-time, quick learning by an individual is needed.

This is valuable, but very different from a formal mentoring relationship.

Informal mentoring vs formal mentoring programs

Informal mentoring should not be used as a replacement to a formal mentoring program. Although informal mentoring may exist in conjunction with a formal mentoring program, the continuing problem of an exclusively informal mentoring is that informal mentoring is not always tied to the organization’s objectives and not measurable or reportable by definition. This creates a problem when measuring the success and ROI of the program.

An organization needs to determine what type of mentoring focus they want – it is not to say the one type is wrong and the other is right. The important element is to ensure that there is a very clear understanding of the differences between the two. Some specific differences between formal and informal mentoring include:

Characteristics of informal mentoring:

  1. May not be tied to organizational objectives
  2. May not have specific goal success metrics
  3. Matches are many times made based on similarity and attraction
  4. May not have a program manager
  5. May not have defined timelines for participants
  6. May not have training for participants
  7. Does not normally involve managers

Characteristics of formal mentoring:

  1. Is tied to organizational objectives
  2. Has specific goals and success metrics
  3. Matches are made based on developmental goals
  4. There is a program manager
  5. Partnerships have defined timelines
  6. Training is provided for all participants
  7. There is strong manager support

Benefits of informal and formal mentoring relationships

Informal Mentoring Relationships:

  1. Provides just-in-time and immediate learning
  2. Promotes self-driven learning
  3. Offers fast and immediate networking
  4. Allows anyone to participate as there are no specific requirements of participants
  5. Requires minimal maintenance from the organization
  6. Gives the option of changing to a long-term more formal mentoring relationship

Formal Mentoring Relationships:

  1. Provides both short-term and long-term development and reinforcement of learning
  2. Promotes self-driven learning
  3. Allows participation only from individuals that are truly interested and qualified
  4. Requires maintenance from the organization to successfully match and pair individuals and ensure successful relationships
  5. Provides training to ensure participants understand their roles

Mentoring software for informal and formal mentoring

Creating a database for mentees to find mentors can be compiled by someone within your organization. However, this can be time consuming to create and maintain. Mentoring software is the easiest way to maintain a database of potential mentors available for informal or formal mentoring sessions. It allows mentors to create profiles and set availability that mentees can then peruse easily.

An important element in implementing any mentoring program is tracking results to prove the ROI and impact. In addition to streamlining matching, mentoring software tracks the progress of individual mentorships, making measuring the success of the program simple. These reports help organizations prove the program’s worth and maintain their funding.

Insala has decades of experience building all types of mentoring programs and implementing software for easy program management. For help starting your mentoring program or for more information, book a demo today.

Through innovative web-based SaaS technology, Insala partners with organizations to accelerate performance and drive evidence-based decisions for organizations and their people.


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